Friday, July 01, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Reza Tokaloo


Reza Tokaloo  ( His feet planted on the floor of the 1369 Cafe in Cambridge, Mass.)

 Tokaloo writes:

I think I am becoming more and more of a Somerville/Boston/city writer these days - after having lived and written in Middelboro-Plymouth area about cranberry bogs, the Nemasket River, Plymouth Harbor and southern Mass townies for years! I snapped a picture of my boots at the 1369 cafe near Inman Square.

 A Group of Young Girls on a Subway Train in Boston

                   A small group of
                   Young city girls on the
                   Red Line to Alewife:
                   Bending and displaying
                   Their thin pale legs,
                   Folding and fanning
                   Their immaturity –
                   Overly perfumed.
                   They hide their
                   Behind a public theater
                   Of high-pitched
                   Chatter and staged

Sharon Shaloo helps put Massachusetts literature on the map.

Sharon Shaloo
*** Since this article was written funding has been restored for the Mass.Center for the Book.

Sharon Shaloo helps put Massachusetts literature on the map.

By Doug Holder

Sharon Shaloo is putting literature on the map...literally. This executive director for the Mass Center for the Book has been working on creating a literary map of Massachusetts, among her many other projects.

  Every year Mass Book presents the Mass. Book Awards that honors writers in the Commonwealth and beyond. A resident of Arlington and member of the town’s Tourism and Economic Development Committee, Shaloo has worked on a literary map of the state, which includes landmarks from every city and town in the commonwealth. 
Shaloo grew up in New Jersey and earned her undergraduate degree from Rutgers University. She has lived in Indiana, New York City and participated in a teaching exchange in London. When her husband’s career path brought her to the Bay State, she originally moved to Boston, but later chose to settle in Arlington.

Doug Holder: First off—I hear that your funding is at stake presently.

Sharon Shaloo: Yes. The Massachusetts Center for the Book was established in 2000. For the first twelve to fourteen years of our operation our funding was coming through the budget lines in the state budget. Currently we are funded in the house budget, but not in the senate. So, as we speak we are waiting to hear about our future from the Budget Conference Committee. So if you like what we are doing contact your state rep, or state senator and ask them to vote for the 7,9508 line of funds.

DH: There are many book awards, etc... Why do you feel the Mass. Book Award is necessary?

SS: First let me explain about the Mass. Book Award. We were formed by a consortium of libraries, educators, and humanities institutions back in 2000. The Center for the Book is in every state. So we are affiliated with The Center for the Book and the Library of Congress. We develop programs in the state that in partnership with libraries and other organizations promote literature. That's what the Book Awards were meant to do to --to put librarians in collaboration with booksellers, critics, reviewers in order to promote the best that is written in and about Massachusetts for the past year. We are by far the largest state book award in the country. Our award-winning books are placed at the State Library/ Special Collection at the Mass. State House. A hundred years from now people will be looking at these books.

DH: What are the categories of the award?

SS: Poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and children and young adult literature.

DH: Who were the winners at the last award ceremony?

SS: Fiction: Celeste Ng, Non-Fiction: Elizabeth Kolbert, Poetry: January O'Neil, Young Adult/ Children: Katherine Howe/ Peter and Paul Reynolds.

DH: Who were the judges you had in the past?

SS: We've had Ifeanyi Menkiti, Nick Flynn, Lloyd Schwartz and, many others. We get a distinguished group of writers and academics each year. Each year I am amazed what they find and I am very proud.

DH: What do you think is the future of the physical book?

SS: I love the physical book. I hope it will stick around. I started my career in publishing in New York City. This was when hot type was going the way of the dinosaur. I talked to compositors and they told me how much they missed their craft. Great paper lasts and we need to ensure that our digital preservation is just as good

DH: I know you love the work of Edith Wharton, and you were on the board of the Edith Wharton Society.

SS; It goes back a long way. I am a lapsed academic. I studied turn of the century American literature. I found that Wharton's turn of the century writing touched on the same things as the writing that was coming out in 2000. Wharton was a strong woman, and in New York I worked for the literary agent Helen Brann. She was the first woman to establish an independent literary agency in New York. So I found Wharton's work very germane to what I admired and thought about.

DH: You have been involved in creating a literary map of the state.

SS: Yes—so far we have included over 300 sites. This is a site-based map not an author based. We are looking to cut literary trails, with an emphasis on writing and social justice.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

ANCESTORS AND ELEVATORS: Reflections on Class, Identity, and Public Spaces By Elena Harap

Elena Harap

ANCESTORS AND ELEVATORS: Reflections on Class, Identity, and Public Spaces

By Elena Harap

            Hospital  corridors: long, shiny, and impersonal. I passed through them each afternoon during my husbands week of recovery  from surgery for a knee replacement.  The operation succeeded and he soon came home to our Boston apartment, walked freely, climbed stairs without pain, took hikes in the Arboretum. As I write I am not even sure I remember which knee is the one with the scar.
            Nonetheless, I experience a certain melancholy when I recall the hospitals faceless corridors and quietly metallic elevators, empty of traffic at the end of the work day. The surroundings were politely intimidating, lacking in texture, although I respected the labor evidenced by meticulously clean bathrooms, freshly mopped floors. Billboard-like posters along the walls remind me how caring and humane (smiling patients were quoted) was this place. Plaques and  signs named benefactors, who became my companions on trips to and fro. 
            Most prominent were Florence and Mortimer Gryzmysh: I was fascinated by the consonants. Following sign after repetitive sign on the way to their building, resisting my sense of outsider-ness, I invented a story of penniless immigrants who built a fortune, donating millions to raise this tower. I became suspicious of my imagined entrepreneurs. Was theirs ill-gotten wealth? Finally I consulted the Internet, where I found the report of a gift from this family, some fifty years ago, of half a million toward the development of the hospital complex. I felt vaguely disappointed. $500,000––a formidable sum,  but the donors didnt appear to be multimillionaires. Besides, they were native Bostonians, and I had incorrectly copied the name, which should have read Gryzmish. So much for my story; still, it had brought a human face to the imposing names on the wall.
            I took note of other honored families: Leon V. and Marilyn L. Rosenberg; John and Rosalie Frank. Maybe their descendants would find a welcome in the familiar names. The title over the entrance to the Clinical Cancer Center would evoke someones genial, joke-telling grandfather or outspoken, activist grandmother. Even elevator cars bore plaques above the doors. On the way to some upper floor the visiting relative  might recognize the name of an austere uncle, a beautiful and stylish great-aunt, and feel a sense of belonging.
            And sowhy not?I began to insert my own familys names. How about the Moses and Yetta Harap Cancer Center, for the grandparents whom I knew only from a turn-of-the-twentieth-century family photo, whose legacy of children included my father and some of my favorite uncles and aunts? Yetta had died of Hodgkins Disease, an immigrant woman still raising her family of nine children.  Her husband, a New York factory worker, clung to an Orthodox isolation, but his kids, secular Americans, roamed into worlds of business, scholarship, farmingand the next generations explored medicine, fashion, politics. Maybe if Yetta had lived into her seventies I could have known her; maybe at this moment someone elses grandmother was being healed in Yettas Cancer Center. She too might contribute to the cultural galaxy of an urban hospital.  
            For my mothers side, I would endow the Norah and William Chater  Interfaith Chapel. English and Episcopalian, these grandparents numbered priests among their descendants. The visitor could sit quietly in their space. I would mourn there for William himself, a journalist whose death by drowning, a possible suicide, left his wife to raise four children, teaching piano and taking in boarders at their row house in Brooklyn. Norah would bring to the chapel the music she loved.
            As for the elevators, I transformed plaques over the doors and rode up to my husbands ward in the company of Eugene and Edith Frankel, Connecticut cousins who used to visit and tell stories from family history. Coming down, I might dedicate the compartment to my own parents, Joan Chater and Henry Harap. This strategy amused but also sustained me, a  comforting way of entering and owning the hospital culture. You, the reader, might try it next time you walk through a high-ceilinged hospital entrance hall feeling adrift and anonymous. But this is hardly the kind of suggestion one would find posted  at the door. 
            Suppose healing is connected with identity; suppose that as a house of healing, the hospital must somehow represent all of us––donors, financiers, architects, builders, laborers; medical, administrative, and maintenance workers;  students and researchers; patients, their parents, grandparents, children, siblings, extended families and friends––assuring each an equal stake in this institution. An inspired painting or tapestry in the lobby might affirm the worlds within worlds of all who come and go. Each ones story would occupy space, in the current moment and in the mirror of time. It seems unlikely. 
            Instead, for short-term consumers like my husband and myself, revolving through massive doors into the labyrinth of a large hospital, I envision a simple technology. We could dedicate our own elevators, at least for the duration of our ride. Elevator cars would be equipped with a keyboard on which we could enter the name of an ancestor, a living relative, or a friend. The name would then appear over the door as if on a plaque.  No neon, nothing glitzy, just clear black letters on a neutral backgroundTHE Reverend Walter Chater: my minister uncle who sought to help post-World War II refugees;  Lynda Patton, a sister by mutual adoption, a questioner, dispeller of prejudice right up to her death in her early sixties. You, reader, will add your chosen names. If were in the elevator at the same time, our electronic gadget will accommodate numerous plaques around the wall of the compartment, watching over us, lifting our spirits. Having seen us safely to our floors, the names erase; the  space is open for the next passengers honoree.
            Im almost ready to believe my invention will work when I start to worry about its misuse. TV characters, political candidates, or villains of history might be made appear on the walls. How to protect the concept of a perpetual wall of respect: an honor roll that constantly recreates itself? The technology of inclusion might provide wall screens like those in airports, where a flurry of confetti-like fragments creates a personal silhouette as we walk by, then resolves again into a blur, ready for the next imprint.  Or another approach: ancestors names would light up under visitors feet, sent from myriad hospital rooms to adorn the floor of the main lobby. 
       One way or another, were all stuck with the risky business of birth, death, and everything in between; we come to a hospital in trouble, needing help. As I walked the corridors and played with fantasies of naming, I was attempting to tap into a source of resilience.  I wanted to bring my fullest reserve of humor and wellness to my husbands room on the orthopedic floor. Borrowing the impulse of those who named the buildings and other structures, I elevated those closest to me, giving them a public presence and invoking their benevolence.
            Now, living in the small state of Vermont, I enter the carpeted halls of the three-story building that houses my local hospital, not as a stranger. Im acquainted with the artist whose painting hangs in the lobby; I recognize the retired surgeon who sits reading a newspaper in the coffee shop; I am at ease within the architectural scale. I know this place, and it knows me. This is the healthy reciprocity that should be available to everybody, not only in hospitals but in public spaces generally. If we find it we are nurtured; if not, we have to create it for ourselves. Remember were around, say the ancestors, in case you need us in the elevators.


Elena Harap, descended from English Protestant and East European Jewish immigrants, grew up in Nashville, TN. She earned her B.A., Wellesley College; M. A., Boston University; MFA in Writing, VT College of Fine Arts. She has worked privately with Kathleen Spivack. At the Joiner Institute, UMass/Boston, Elena studied with Martín Espada, Martha Collins, Fred Marchant, Charles Dumas, Danielle Legos Georges, and Lady Borton.

 er poems and essays have appeared in Sojourner, Bayou, Jewish Currents, Summer Home Review, and on NPR. She tours nationally in "Meet Eleanor Roosevelt," a one-woman show written and produced with Josephine Lane

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Podcast: Doug Holder interviews poet Lori Desrosiers on Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer

Doug Holder/Lori Desrosiers

Lori Desrosiers is the author of The Philosopher’s Daughter, published by Salmon Poetry in 2013 and a chapbook, Inner Sky from Glass Lyre Press. Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak is her second full-length collection. Her poems have appeared in New Millennium Review, Contemporary American Voices, Best Indie Lit New England, String Poet, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene's Fountain, The New Verse News, The Mom Egg, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish-American Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry and WORDPEACE, an online journal dedicated to peace and justice. She teaches Literature and Composition at Westfield State University and Holyoke Community College, and Poetry in the Interdisciplinary Studies program for the Lesley University M.F.A. graduate program. Click on link for podcast

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Breathing for Clouds Poems, Prose & Fiction By Christopher Reilley

Christopher Reilley

 Breathing for Clouds
Poems, Prose & Fiction
By Christopher Reilley
Big Table Publishing
Boston, MA
ISBN: 978-0-9904872-6-5
137 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Poems of deeply felt sentiment and crafted solace always find ardent readers. And so will Breathing for Clouds, Christopher Reilley’s new grab bag of emotive poetry and atmospheric prose. Reilley’s poetic pieces radiate sincerity and formal authority with a twist of versatility and a flexing of heart. Not all the poems work on the same level, and that seems okay, especially when the collection derives its power from plain spoken honesty and genuineness.

Early on, in a poem entitled A Digital Voice, Reilley captures the deluge of his own emotions on a computer screen. As his voices stream in from the cosmos, a  torrent of feelings, he molds the music into a perfectly contained, efficacious image. The poet concludes,

The lunar tide of my mind
floods the screen
with my voice.

Sweeping grandeur
and probing acuity
are captured in words and phrases,
displayed for all,
a jeweled butterfly
in a digital web.

In his piece An Aubade of Spring Reilley questions the power of verse in treating the arthritic soul of a world-weary artist. He uses the traditional “aubade” or morning song to meditate on the potential for rebirth and the green prospects of new love. Here, at winter’s end, is the heart of the poem,

The sonorous drone of winter’s groan—
will it spring into exalted tune
when it warms?
Will it expand into the hum
of a trillion lives beginning?
Would my sodden heart
begin an aria to new beginnings?
Would my curious hands
Weave words of magical cures?

Some of Reilley’s best poems use his constitutional exuberance in interesting ways. He tempers unduly explosive emotions without removing the edginess, and funnels them into hard core imagery. My favorite poem in this collection, Travel Through Desert, is like that. After the matter-of-fact travel instructions (don’t forget water), Reilley transports his readers into a headier zone. He puts it this way,

Something within you just slows—slows.

You make what time you can before the east ignites.

Rolling or stumbling, it is up to you.
And when you learn what life is like
on a match head
you know with certainty
if you want to stay.
You make the decision, every time.
Cannot cross without doing it.

You choose to see the other side,
or you choose not to.

Another of Reilley’s well-modulated pieces entitled Dreams of Travel meditates on the wonder of artistic imagination. The poet captures both the durable and ethereal natures of creation. The artist becomes an intrepid traveler marveling into the lush innards of humanity. Reilley’s image of a shuttered lantern perfectly conveys his persona’s hidden awe. The piece begins impressively with props and process,

I take the bundle of maps and roll them tight,
stack them neatly in the shelf where they will rest,
marveling at my trick of sliding the whole world
into a cardboard tube, wondering if oceans spill,
if mountains will tumble like laundry being dried,
continents trickling away as hourglass dust.

I know that when I sleep, they come to me,
unfurl themselves in order to lay against my skin,
whispering the names of exotic places
with the hot breath of sirocco in my ear,
moonbeams glittering possibilities
across their paper wings.

Cacophony sometimes cancels out the world wonderfully. Reilley considers the casino’s ambiance, an underground of quiet commotion and secret obsessions, in his poem Guilty Gambler. He calculates the poet’s edge in life’s probability game and affirms existence over self-destruction. Rising from dormancy, the poet recommends a future of potential,

Hide the secretive soul away, dammit.

Do you recall the taste of old bruises,
know the name of every slight?
Can you feel the weight of years and acceptance
can you know the strength you have yet to know?

Lie low, lie low, breath as shallow as you might
But you must draw breath once more to live,
And tomorrow’s a decent bet, with better odds
Than finding surcease at the tables.

Scraps of Black, a poem Reilley uses to pin his creative processes together on an observational wall, sets up a proposition of questions and declarations before a rather clever and rewarding conclusion. The poet cobbles together a medley of images,

Why are there so many places
that are interchangeable, and why
do days merge?
I have to talk about rivers
that defeat themselves
by keeping alive.
I only know about objects
That birds lose, but
I can talk about mundane tools with bitterness.
What we have today
Are not memories—
They are faces with tears

Aside from the poetry, three of Reilley’s gritty prose pieces, all subtitled “Another true tale from the Grand Café,” I found especially entertaining. They were well constructed, and, in turn, both funny and seriously pointed. They fit quite well into this satisfying and surrounding medley of heartfelt and principled verses.

Monday, June 27, 2016

From the Bloc 11 Cafe: Doug Holder interviews musician/artist Yani Batteau

Yani Batteau  ( Click on for interview)

Back in 2010 I interviewed musician and artist Yani Batteau at the Bloc 11 Cafe. Since then she has moved to Medford from Somerville because of the astronomical rents she experienced. I revisited Batteau at the same spot at the Bloc some six years later, to catch up on her art and life. We talked about the gentrification of Somerville, her "American Soul" brand of music, and her art.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Robert K. Johnson

Robert K. Johnsom

Robert K. Johnson is a retired professor of English--Suffolk University/Boston. He has been widely published in the small press.



You pause


who was speaking or


before their eyes

happened on you:

              a painter's

perfect brush stroke.

               --Robert K. Johnson